Surprise Birthday Party

My first inclination was to reach out to a travel agent to arrange an incredible vacay for Daddy and his brother, my Uncle Berk. See, they’d had an epic cross-country bro road-trip almost a decade earlier—a jaunt the two of them still talked about fondly—so I figured what better way for my father, my heart, to celebrate his 75th birthday than on the shores of Hawaii with his best friend? They could chill in a part of the world they’d never seen and create memories they’d always cherish, all centered around Daddy’s milestone birthday. But my brother, Troy, had a different, more involved celebration in mind: a surprise birthday party.

I admit, I didn’t see the value in spending thousands of dollars on securing a venue, hiring a caterer and bartenders and figuring out the addresses of all his friends in his Virginia hometown—six hours away from where I lived with my family. Still, my brother was insistent. It became crystal clear, though, when my daddy, under the impression that he was making a quick stop with my uncle before going out for a small birthday dinner, strolled nonchalantly into his own party and got the shock of his life when 60 friends and family members yelled, “Surprise!”

My father, strong, funny, at times rather no-nonsense and brash, put his hands over his mouth and burst into tears.

I will never, ever forget his reaction in that moment. Neither will my father. See, later in the party when he made his “thank you” speech, Daddy revealed this one simple truth that I hadn’t considered: he’d never had a birthday party. Can you believe it? Three quarters of a century on this earth, having survived the Great Depression, Jim Crow, The Great Migration, Reaganomics, a wife and two kids, and the wonder that is The WuTang Clan, and no one had ever thrown a party in his honor to celebrate his birth. He’d been given gifts, of course, and a few birthday cakes and taken to dinner for his birthday, of course, but a party? Never. mahogany birthday greeting cards

But life is worth grand celebration, isn’t it? So many things can happen during the course of a year: babies are born, get their first teeth and learn how to walk; 12-year-olds mature and get themselves set for high school and teenage status; 17-year-olds finish up school and make the transition to college, where they make their first steps toward total independence and adulthood; some folks go from engagement to just married, some go from long-time worker to retiree, some go from healthy to incredibly ill, some make the transition from being on the land of the living to the forever slumber. Every moment between is filled with life—laughter, sadness, anger, bliss, depression, good times, wonder and so much more. And surviving it, thriving in it, dancing in it, crying in it and making it through for another day, well, that’s a pretty good reason to gather up all the people you love and who love you back and invite them to give thanks for your making it through another year.

Though I’ve quite shamelessly organized and thrown some pretty over-the-top birthday parties for my babies—one of these days, I’ll tell you all about the white party we hosted in the “secret garden” on Mari’s first birthday, or the time we had a backyard carnival for Lila, or that time I turned our living room into a massive Parisian-styled dessert and candy salon or one of the many other themed parties we’ve thrown every year of our daughters’ lives—these days, with family that is close, we make a point of doing something even more special, more personal: we’ll meet up for cake and champagne at one of our homes and spend the evening raising a glass and toasting the person of honor with heartfelt words that express exactly why we love and appreciate her or him. They are intimate affairs with just the immediate family; we hold back nothing, and rest assured that the birthday girl/boy knows that, above all things, she/he is… loved.

Enough, certainly, to get them through another 365 days.

So I get it now: everybody deserves a party. Even and especially 75-year-old daddies, who should hear often just how special and loved they are.

* * *

Make a point of telling the people who mean something to you that you appreciate them. That you love them. That you’re grateful they’ve been around for another year. Can’t find the perfect words? No worries—Hallmark’s got you covered with their stunning line of Mahogany birthday greeting cards, which always seem to find the most perfect, authentic words to express yourself to the ones you love and care about. Check out the beautiful Mahogany greeting cards here, as well as the location of stores where you can purchase them.

Mahogany Logo


This post is sponsored by Hallmark. I shared my story here on MyBrownBaby to help the company spread the word about its Mahogany greeting cards. Of course, all opinions are mine.

Photo credit: Lila Chiles

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. love this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Love this post! A party in his honor!

  3. That was awesome! Praying God bless him with many more!!

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